23,000 miles. Two weeks. Five games. Four countries. 14 goals. Two wins. Two losses. One draw. Bangkok. Sydney. Japan. Hong Kong. Manchester.
Manchester United’s 2013 Asian tour was our first insight into the David Moyes era and the Scot’s first chance to work with the squad that Sir Alex Ferguson left behind. What he found was a set of players who were hungry to impress. Under the new manager, no player was guaranteed a starting spot – everybody was back to square one, they had to prove themselves and some certainly did that.
The main point Moyes will take away from Asia is the quality of United’s youngsters. Few could of expected new signing Wilfried Zaha or academy graduates Jesse Lingard and Adnan Januzaj to have the impact they did but the trio were United’s shining stars. Zaha showcased everything that United’s wingers didn’t have last season – endeavor, trickery, an ability to take a man on but above all else, confidence.
The 20-year-old played with a real sense of freedom that brought the best out of him. Those that watched Crystal Palace’s promotion last season would have known what a talent Zaha is but nobody would of thought he could replicate that form instantly at United. Before the tour, Zaha was seen by fans as a great addition to the squad who would have a slow and steady first season at Old Trafford but he should now arguably be given a start against Swansea on August 17.
Alongside Zaha, academy graduates Lingard and Januzaj both took their opportunity and grabbed it emphatically. The 20-year-old Warrington born winger ended as United’s top scorer with four goals, including stunning strikes against the A League All-Stars and Kitchee FC, and exceeded everybody’s expectations.
As for Januzaj, he produced what followers of the U21s knew he could. He wasn’t named Denzil Haroun Reserve Player of the Year without reason. Composed, intelligent and incisive, Januzaj played like an established first teamer rather than an 18-year-old on his first experience of senior football.
While the academy duo aren’t ready for regular first team football just yet, they will breath new life into the squad like two new signings and will be given opportunities to impress in the Premier League.
There were plenty of positives to take from the first team too. Midfield duo Anderson and Cleverley played the most minutes out of anybody on the tour and really worked hard on their fitness. Even if United bring a midfielder in, both will play important roles this season. Fabio showed how much he had improved from his loan spell at QPR with some solid performances while Smalling started twice to put his injury woes of last season behind him.
In attack, Danny Welbeck scoring goals was the best sight for United fans. Three goals in five games should be the perfect tonic for his confidence that was no doubt knocked by last season.
As a fan, you can’t help but love Welbeck. He has worked his way up through the academy since he was nine years old and where most players fail, he earned his spot in the first team. That doesn’t happen by accident. If he can now add goals to his all-round game that never faltered last season, Welbeck could quite easily become one of our most important players for Moyes.
Unsurprisingly, United’s defence was poor overall. Moyes rotated his back line every game in order to give everybody time on the pitch and the lack of stability meant that United weren’t very cohesive at the back. One of the biggest worries of the tour has to be the performances of Alexander Buttner who, against weak opposition, was frail defensively. I’m still not convinced he has what it takes to make it at United.
As for the midfield, our lack of depth once again came to the surface in Michael Carrick‘s absence. Anderson and Cleverley don’t offer any protection and for all the positives they bring to the team moving forward, United are liable to concede when they are the midfield pairing.
It was also the fans first opportunity to see how United would play under Moyes. At Everton, he regularly used a high pressing tactic that forced the opposition to play quick football and it was one that, along with Everton’s regimented discipline, really worked for them.
Against the A-League All-Stars in particular, Moyes’ pressing tactic was used to great effect with the team working as a unit to force the opposition into making mistakes. It is a tactic that requires real discipline and fitness but it has proven to be extremely effective with both Barcelona and Bayern Munich adopting the tactic in recent years.
The tour would of really helped Moyes learn the strengths and weaknesses of his squad but with the likes of Vidic, Nani, Valencia and Powell all not going on tour, there is still plenty he has to learn about the squad before our visit to the Liberty Stadium on August 17.
United will now have a week back in Manchester before travelling to Sweden for the next tour game in Stockholm on August 6. Moyes is likely to be busy working on transfers with Ed Woodward while the team will get used to conditions in England once again.